Protecting Freedom/Preventing Harm. Can New Zealand’s New Chief Censor Do Both?

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IT IS TO BE HOPED that the new Chief Censor, Caroline Flora, will waste no time explaining herself. It is important that New Zealanders are told how her old job, Associate Deputy-Director Strategy and Performance, at the Ministry of Health, made her the obvious choice for her new job.

According to Peter Dunne, the Minister of Internal Affairs responsible for the appointment of Ms Flora’s predecessor, David Shanks: “The Chief Censor is responsible for protecting New Zealanders from material likely to cause harm while balancing the important right to freedom of expression”.

Clearly, the person tasked with this delicate legal and cultural juggling act should be someone with a solid background in law, and more than a passing acquaintance with philosophy, political history, the arts and literature, film, television, and social-media. Are these the core capacities required of the Associate Deputy-Director Strategy and Performance at the Ministry of Health? They may well be, but the prima facie case is not strong.

Which is why Ms Flora owes New Zealand a comprehensive explanation of how she sees, and how she proposes to carry out, her role. Where, for example, is her duty to respect and protect the citizen’s right to freedom of expression positioned in relation to her understanding of what is likely to cause society as a whole, or a vulnerable sub-section of it, “harm”. How does she define harm? A question which, depending on how Ms Flora answers it, will play a central role in how she carries out her new responsibilities.

It is vitally important to remember that freedom of expression relates not only to the citizen’s right to communicate his or her thoughts and emotions to others, but also to their right to have their thoughts and emotions excited and stimulated by the communications of others. Our own Bill of Rights Act spells it out: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form.” In other words, the right to emulate Shakespeare, as well as the right to read and watch Shakespeare’s plays.

What threshold will a book, play, film or video have to cross before Ms Flora bans it? Would she consider banning the performance of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice on the grounds that it is antisemitic? Would she ban a film which presented a young person’s decision to transition from female to male in a negative light? Would she pull from the bookshelves a work of history that purported to prove that the chiefs who gathered at Waitangi in 1840 knowingly surrendered their sovereignty to the British Crown? Would she prohibit the distribution of a video depicting Islam as a religion of violence?

One would hope that the new Chief Censor’s answer to each of these questions would be an emphatic “No.” But, considering the censorious times we are living through, it is, sadly, necessary to ask. From the Caucus Room to the Common Room, the urge to shut-down and shut-up those accused of inflicting “harm” on others is strong – and getting stronger.

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In the United Nation’s summary of the “International Bill of Human Rights” the notion of harm is spelled out in relation to communications inimical to the free exercise, individually and/or collectively, of those rights and freedoms the International Bill of Human Rights was created to protect. The latter provides for protection of the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and to freedom of opinion and expression. Significantly, it also calls for the “prohibition by law of any propaganda for war and of any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.”

If this is Ms Flora’s definition of hateful “speech”, then she will find most New Zealanders in agreement with her. Incitement of ‘discrimination’, ‘hostility’ and ‘violence’ would strike most of us as a sensible test for determining whether material not already defined as “objectionable” in the legislation establishing the Chief Censor’s office should be deemed so.

Were Ms Flora, in explaining herself to her fellow citizens, to refer approvingly to the legacy of her erudite and classically liberal predecessors, Arthur Everard and Bill Hastings, many of them would breath a large sigh of relief. They could then feel reassured that the Chief Censor’s power to rule a particular instance of communication objectionable (invoking all the powerful legal sanctions associated with that term) would be used both wisely and sparingly.

The worry, of course, is that Ms Flora will use the powers of her office to extend its reach into the communication of ideas and policies that, while falling well short of inciting discrimination, hostility or violence, nevertheless are likely to upset and alarm specific individuals or communities.

The new Chief Censor’s background in the upper reaches of the public service raise fears that her institutionally-honed inclination will be to move in the direction of the incumbent government. Given this Government’s growing obsession with misinformation, disinformation and extremism, driven by the Christchurch Mosque Massacres and the Covid-19 Pandemic, it would be helpful to know whether Ms Flora plans to go with the flow, or stand against the tide. Will she be guided by the fundamental tenets of classical liberalism? Or, will she be moved by the definitions of extremism supplied last year to the Department of Internal Affairs by the UK-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue? If it’s the latter, then freedom of expression in New Zealand could take a hit.

This is why the new Chief Censor owes New Zealand a clear explanation of where she stands, and where she would like to go. Ms Flora is taking up office in a climate of deepening antagonisms between ethnicities, identities and faith communities. If the Labour Government’s announced intention to criminalise “hate speech” is expedited by the new Minister of Justice, Kiri Allan, then the Office of the Chief Censor, along with the Human Rights Commission, will find themselves caught between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. The dual mandate set out by Peter Dunne: to protect New Zealanders from “material likely to cause harm while balancing the important right to freedom of expression” can only become harder and harder to fulfil.

 

40 COMMENTS

  1. One can certainly hope for the best, but we must be prepared for the absolute worst. I follow the channel of the ‘Counterspin Media’ nutters on Telegram, usually there’s some enjoyable crankery about 5G brainwaves or chemtrails, but I was rather horrified by a video they posted a couple days ago (seems to have been deleted since then).

    Some chap who seems to be vaguely associated with the usual antivax types had broken the mold a bit, and posted a video covering the Nazi affiliations of many of the Ukrainian ‘volunteer battalions’, and (presumably as a result of some useless deadbeat reporting the video to the Censor) had two police officers visit to lecture him about how that video had been classified as R16 and thus he could face charges unless he deleted his page on Telegram, as Telegram does not allow videos to be manually set to ‘R16’ (as if that stops kids visiting anything on the internet).

    I have no doubt that the government is likely to continue to abuse the office of the Censor to promote its traitorous pro-American, pro-zionist agenda.

    • If it was supposedly a Ukrainian-friendly inspecting a car that had taken a hit from some unknownsource. He was sporting a swastika tattoo on his arm.
      AP and Reuters we’re pumping it hardout on msm until someone pointed out to them the tattoo!

  2. Unfortunately any censor (of any medium) will be bombarded with people who are ‘outraged’ and ‘upset’ with anything and everything.
    I can recall a advertising billboard a few years ago that was good advertising and funny….but was withdrawn as half a doz people or so found it distasteful or racist or upset them!
    Now it’s immaterial what the billboard was as it’s the principle that’s the point here. If 90-95% of people see nothing nefarious nor racist or indeed distasteful with something then that’s fine (can’t please all the people all the time)…but when we get into the bloody stupid situation in NZ (and all of western democracies) that the 5% or so become the true censors in aggressivly cancelling adverts/speakers/tv shows etc etc then all is lost. Fuck the 90% who see no malice/racism/harm in it but are denied it because 5-10% do!!

    This will stop eventually, when the majority just shout NO..STOP!
    USA is already heading there, fingers crossed other western democracies follow soon.

      • Sooo Bert, my point being that the 5-10% or so who are perpetually outraged and see things that are not even there in speeches/tv shows/adverts etc
        Have more say than the 90-95% that see no problem and are not outraged.
        But somehow I’m the one drinking Koolaid and voting Trump! Lol
        Well at least there is one small mercy with your post…you didn’t mention Key or the previous National Govt!
        Thats the most words you have posted without going back 5+yrs, well done….your psychologist will be very pleased with your progress today and if you keep it up he may reduce your medication.

        • Well the Kool-aid certainly hasn’t helped improve your brain function. You are still obsessed with posts about Key, well done. The voices you here should be assessed by a psychiatrist, he’ll probably prescribe clozapine for you.
          As an aside, psychologists can’t prescribe medicine but given your limited frontal lobe functioning, I guess the Kool-aid has done the damage already. Which shows in all your posts.

  3. I think this is a worrying appointment (made by Jan Tinetti who refused to meet with SUFW over the self ID bill). How might our chief censor work in with the centre of excellence for extremism aka Prof Kidman?

    • They will get together to plot ways to bring down those dirty settlers and colonialist racist pigs

      ummm even though they are gringos themselves

    • Anker. It’s the spectacle of public servants replacing successful independent professional persons which is problematic. The only censor I knew anything about was Bill Hastings, a competent and popular law lecturer at VUW before it became another market place tool, and when staff were subject to assessment by their students, which although it can be a rigorous and salutary experience, is nevertheless an invaluable interaction with interesting and positive dialectics. Similarly, replacing the Commissioner for Children, previously, as far as I know, a position occupied by highly achieved lawyers or medical doctors, with a committee of public servants, is the stuff of nightmares for ordinary people who have ever had dealings with New Zealand government departments.

      In other countries like the UK, Russia,China, Canada, India, the civil service contains serious careerists with persons vying for jobs, and a promotion structure usually dependant upon written and oral examinations. I don’t think that the same can be said about the New Zealand public service. My inclination would tend to be to towards persons who are experienced out in the real world, and the public deserves transparency, not secrecy, about how all these sorts of appointments are made, and the rationale behind them. Ditto the extremist extremists established to counter extremists.

      One thing we do need is an expanded Office of the Ombudsman.

      • You and C Chris Trotter are en titled to your positive view of Bill Hastings, My experience of his stewardship of the B broadcasting Standards authority – The tv censor – is that some topics cannot be discussed – And that the BSA rules for requiring balance have been largely eradicated

    • Radio New Zealand also refused to talk to talk to Speak Up For Women – despite its obligation under its charter to reflect a full range of New Zealanders opinions

  4. Why worry?
    Are any of our concerns and ideas worth a jot?
    This is yet another example of “appointments” to important governing positions to which the ordinary person has no input at all and simply reflects the appalling low quality of our public service. The empire builders.
    Where’s the ballot box?

  5. vitue signalling by administrators…oh look we’re doing something give me a pension.
    censorship is pointless because it’s unenforceable all banning does is boost sales…we banned ‘x’ ‘excuse me I’ll just download that film I was previously unaware of’
    plus if you look at the list of things banned every single time 20yrs down the road the censorship just looks stupid and childish.

  6. It’s all sort of pointless since anything technically “censored” or “banned” here will be available in full on the internet with a trivial Google search, and people can and will get hold of it anyway. At the end of the day, she can’t censor content on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, 4Chan, Tumbler or YouTube which is where 99% of people get their information now.

  7. We wheelie wheelie need to have a snap election now!

    The next recession is coming and we know how bad this government is at dealing with recessions.

    Bring on a couple of hung parliaments! Just for fun!!

    Janette who? Never heard of her, him, them, they….

  8. Rest assured Chris. Ms Flora will have been chosen because she has the “correct” views about who and what to censor.

  9. Your two recent posts, open for me the most personal and dreadful of questions. ‘Trust’ in the offices of Government to supply truthful outcomes. And transparency, thereafter; to supply documentation of those outcomes, under rules of good governance.
    In this case, trusting the censor to know what it is she or he is looking at.
    The Christchurch mosque video DATASET (of which there are two) beg empirical, forensic, genuine, Questions. Anomalies that have never been dissembled, tested, or contested, by experts, under cross-examination, before a jury of our peers; In a court of law.
    As it stands; the OFLC has admitted – per OIA request – to having kept NO record of their processes deciding this most critical matter. Let that sink in. The classifications office of Government, processing this classification, according to an OIA request; kept NO records of its process.
    This begs a question no government minister is so far willing to address and, by the sound of it, the new admin. will be no different.

  10. This country is so screwed. I’d be surprised if there are enough flights out to cater for everyone who wants to get out while they still can

  11. Here in the UK (I’m on holiday at the moment) they have recently imprisoned a man who tweeted some trashy jokes about transsexuals.
    6 months inside for that! He was a trainee cop, so lost his job too.
    Don’t think this couldn’t happen here.

  12. Free speech via Fox News?

    Maiz ben zur , the two parties for the rich’s neglect of the people.

    Britain blocked Fox and did a bloody good thing.

  13. Sky News Aus has the vileness of a sewage stream. Roop’s gift to his own country.

    He as an intelligent Scot knows what he’s doing. Trump knows ‘getting on’ but not ‘the fair go’ of our people.

  14. Well the Kool-aid certainly hasn’t helped improve your brain function. You are still obsessed with posts about Key, well done. The voices you here should be assessed by a psychiatrist, he’ll probably prescribe clozapine for you.
    As an aside, psychologists can’t prescribe medicine but given your limited frontal lobe functioning, I guess the Kool-aid has done the damage already. Which shows in all your posts.

      • The thing is we have absolutely no idea what those comments from a trainee police man caused the transexual community. A community already struggling to find their identity in the world of free speech and the internet. “ME TO” maybe should translate into “WORDS TOO”. The history of news communication in the world has gone from almost weeks at sea, pigeon post , to multi news per second on hand 24/7 , so the words said are instantaneous to who ever is the recipient of said words nice words or not. Conspiracy theories abound in this internet world, drunken texts to spurned lovers, hate speech etc.etc. and once said the words cannot be taken back. These words are on the internet forever. Maybe put yourselves in the place of some of these communities who constantly are portrayed and spoken about in negative ways and ask yourself how would you feel if it was me or my children spoken about in this way with such freedom to hurt and humiliate, maybe then you might have a different perspective and understand words do matter and it is an adult’s responsibility to ensure both they and their children treat others no matter who they are with respect not degrade who they are in the most hateful way possible at every opportunity.

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